Head Lice: A nuisance but not a medical or health hazard (April 2016 School Leader Update)
The Department has recently received several complaints regarding head lice policies in schools.
- “No Nit” policies and sending students home if a nit is found even after treatment.
- Requiring prescription treatment before returning to school.
- Requiring multiple treatments before returning to school that are not consistent with treatment directions.
- Lack of confidentiality of the students.
- Comments that some students are “repeat offenders.”
In response to these complaints we want to remind schools that head lice should not be considered as a medical or public health hazard. Head lice are not known to spread disease. While we all understand that head lice in schools is a nuisance, there are appropriate ways to handle the issue without excluding kids from school or making students feel excluded. In fact the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) recommends that children should not be excluded from school due to head lice and should remain in school the rest of the day if they are detected. They also recommend that schools discontinue routine school-based screening and the use of “no nit” policies.
The Iowa Department of Education supports these recommendations. In addition, we would like school administrators to re-mind their staff of the importance of confidentiality of their students and of their ethical obligations to their students. Students should not be ostracized, targeted, or labeled because of an incident involving head lice. Schools should strive to find out-of-the-box solutions for these delicate situations that don’t have a negative impact on the student. Also, remember to educate parents and staff about head lice prevention, detection, and treatment. Below are the recommendations from IDPH and a Head Lice informational brochure that may be given to school officials, teachers, and parents.
For questions regarding Head Lice in schools, contact Melissa Walker, school nurse consultant, at 515-281-5327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.